|Feb. 13, 2008 - 7:30 PM
The Clippers have not won back to back games since opening the season 4-0. But tonight, in their last game before the All Star break, is as good an opportunity as they've had in a long time. Fresh off a road win in Milwaukee, playing in front of the home crowd for the first time this month against a team with just as many injuries woes as they have - well, this is a winnable game. They'll once again be without Tim Thomas who is resting his back until after the All Star break, but are otherwise at full generic strength. Chris Kaman has been slumping since returning from his bout with the flu, but maybe he can snap out of it at home. Most of the other key Clippers - Maggette, Cassell, Mobley, Thornton - are playing pretty well right now. So if Kaman can bounce back I like the Clippers' odds of getting that elusive win streak going.
Like I said, the Wizards are just as beat up as the Clippers. Gilbert Arenas has been out most of the season and Etan Thomas is out for the season. Caron Butler and Antonio Daniels are both listed as day-to-day, but I'd be shocked if either played with the All Star break looming. The Butler and Daniels injuries have contributed to an 8 game losing streak for the Wizards. This also happens to the last game of a Western road trip for them. To sum up, the deck is stacked against the Wizards pretty well, and this would be a perfect game to phone in. But there's another way of looking at it. In their last two losses, at Phoenix and at Golden State, they've played tough against playoff teams despite being short-handed. They probably have this game circled as the one they need to get some semblance of momentum heading into the break. Nine straight losses and an 0-4 trip both go away if they can beat the Clippers. Because of the injuries, some young guys are getting a chance to play and are making the most of it. Roger Mason, who was playing in Europe two seasons ago, scored a career high 32 on Monday. 21 year old Andray Blatche has 3 double doubles in his last 4 games. And rookie Nick Young from USC has scored in double figures in three straight. Meanwhile, Antawn Jamison will be an All Star in New Orleans next week and Brendan Haywood is having easily the best season of his career. So they remain a dangerous opponent.
- The Injury Bug. The similarities between the Clippers and Wizards as regards their current injury situation are actually a little eerie. They've both played the vast majority of the season with their best player hurt (Elton Brand has been out all season, Gilbert Arenas played 8 games early). Both stars expect to be back by early March. Currently, both teams are playing without the backups to their stars - the Wizards without Antonio Daniels and the Clippers without Tim Thomas. They've both lost a young backup center for the season (Etan Thomas and Paul Davis). The Clippers have also been without Shaun Livingston all year, while the Wizards are currently playing without All Star Caron Butler. And while the Wizards were surviving the absence of Agent Zero pretty well (24-19 on 1/29), they are 1-7 without Butler. Key injuries are tough to overcome - key injuries to multiple guys are a show-stopper. We know.
- Get your Clippers fix tonight. The team hasn't been on TV since last Friday. With the All Star break beginning, they won't play again until next Tuesday. That makes this the only chance to see the Clippers in 11 days. It's also their first home game since January. Hopefully the Clipper-starved fans at Staples tonight will energize the team.
- Kaman's Slump. It speaks to how high he has raised the bar that I'm talking about a 'slump' of five games in which he's averaged over 11 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game. But clearly K2 has not been the same player since his illness. Of course, being sick for a week solid, losing weight and conditioning, and then trying to 'recover' in the middle of a 7 game road trip sleeping in a different hotel every night is a pretty tough gig. Hopefully Chris feels a lot better after sleeping in his own bed for a couple of nights and he can close out this first part of the season with a big performance. Haywood has been a monster this season and he will present a formidable challenge.
- Al Thornton. The last time Al Thornton played in Staples Center, he scored 33 points on 13 for 20 shooting against the Hawks in carrying the Clippers to an unlikely win while Kaman and Maggette were both sick. On the road trip, he averaged almost 16 per game and is coming off a 25 point performance in Milwaukee. He'll get the start tonight in the absence of Tim Thomas, and he should have an advantage one-on-one against either Blatche or Jamison (although he'll be giving away size to Blatche on the other end). I expect him to have another big game tonight.
- Duke versus North Carolina. The Wizards start two Tar Heels (Jamison and Haywood). The Clippers normally start Dukies Maggette and Brand, though of course Brand is hurt. The rivalry gets renewed tonight, and based on what happened in Chapel Hill a week ago, I have to say advantage Duke.
- Rebounding. With Butler likely out, the Wizards will slide Jamison from the 4 to the 3 and start Blatche at power forward. That gives them a big front line that hits the glass hard. Maggette and Thornton will have to do a good job of keeping Jamison and Blatche blocked out and give Kaman some help or the Clippers could be badly out-rebounded. Look for Aaron Williams to get an early call if it's not working.